The Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester is Michigan's largest professional theatre company.
This bears repeating: the Meadow Brook Theatre is Michigan's largest professional theatre company.
This means they produce all of their Broadway and Off-Broadway productions right there on-site, from directing to casting to costume design. They work with local Michigan talent as well as talent from New York talent and across the country.
It is also entering its 52nd season, and is now in its 14th year of operating as an independent nonprofit. Though it once fell under the management of Oakland University, the university dissolved its management partnership with the theatre in 2003. While many questioned the fate of the theatre company after that, donors, patrons, and theatre lovers stepped up and rallied together to keep it going.
And all of this is important to know, because many people in Metro Detroit don't necessarily realize that Meadow Brook is a professional theatre company, much less that it is Michigan's largest. Often mistaken as the university's student theatre, or as a stopping point for touring productions (as is the case with the Fox or the Fisher Theatres downtown), many people don’t realize that Meadow Brook actually produces all their own shows exactly as it is done on Broadway and Off-Broadway.
The theatre also shares talent with Broadway and Off-Broadway, and works closely with them on productions to ensure they match what's happening in New York and setting the same tone. Playwrights and screenwriters across the country recognize Meadow Brook as the theatre that sets the regional standard for Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. They bring in dozens of actors, choreographers, and musicians from across the country, including Michigan talent that will often go on to Broadway from there.
The cast rehearses in house and actually stays in Oakland County while they’re in town rehearsing and performing. "We're really bringing Broadway here to the county," says Andrea Walker-Leidy, Development Director of the Meadow Brook Theatre. "It lends to who we are as a county, making it the preeminent place to live and see [live theatre]."
For the 2017-2018 season, the theatre's 52nd, Meadow Brook is excited to host the world premiere Broadway preview of Johnny Manhattan, a musical set in a New York nightclub in the 1960s from the writer and composer of Nunsense, one of Off-Broadway's biggest commercial successes.
"That really lends to the Broadway quality we have here," Walker-Leidy says. "A normal season usually has six shows [in addition to A Christmas Carol every year]. But we decided to add a seventh show this year when we were asked to do the world premiere Broadway preview of Johnny Manhattan."
Johnny Manhattan opens the season with a three-week run this September, followed by Shear Madness in October, which just closed its longtime run Off-Broadway. Meadow Brook was able to snag the original Off-Broadway set for Shear Madness, so visitors will see the production almost exactly as it was seen Off-Broadway.
Other productions coming up this season include popular Off-Broadway productions like Snow Geese, as well as the 35th annual production of the Charles Dickens's beloved holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.
The Meadow Brook Theatre also produces Saturday morning eight children's productions each year, which will include The Cat in the Hat this year. "It’s a great way to introduce kids to live theatre," Walker-Leidy says.
She also says that she wants people to see Meadow Brook as a date night destination – rather than "dinner and a movie," she encourages people to try "dinner and the theatre" as people once did. Guests can come the night of a show and buy tickets just as they would for a movie, then see a quality production of the same caliber as they would see for easily four times the price in New York. It's also easy to park and you don't have to go all the way down to Detroit to see a show.
If you've never attended a show at the Meadow Brook Theatre, make this your year to give it a try. There isn't a bad seat in the house at the beautiful 584-seat theatre, and, as Walker-Leidy notes, "This is a great season for people who have never been here or who want to experience theatre for the first time."